How to Rescue an Overwatered Houseplant

My Garden Life
January 30, 2019
Table of Contents

Most houseplants die from too much love. In an effort to be good caretakers, people water their plants to death. When a plant is left sitting in water, the roots begin to rot, and the leaves become pale and droopy. If your houseplant is exhibiting the symptoms of an overwatered houseplant, and the potting soil feels wet, it’s time to launch a rescue mission.

1. Remove the Plant from Its Pot

Prepare a place for the roots to recover by lining a shallow pan with several layers of newspaper. Lay the plant on its side and slide the rootball out of the pot and onto the newspapers. Leave the plant with its soil in the pan overnight to allow the soil to dry.

If your plant has been in the same soil for more than a year, the potting soil may be exhausted. Worn out potting soil tends to hold too much moisture, so remove as much of the old soil as possible. Fresh potting soil allows water to drain freely while holding just enough moisture to meet the plant’s needs. Use clean scissors to snip off any roots that look slimy or dark-colored. These roots are beginning to rot and will not recover. Now it’s time to pot the plant in fresh soil.

Pro Tip: It’s important to use bagged potting soil and not garden soil for potted plants.

Checking the roots is a good way to determine if you have an overwatered houseplant. Bird of Paradise, Houseplant, with Exposed Roots on Paper

2. Clean or Upgrade the Pot

Prepare the pot by scrubbing and rinsing it thoroughly. You’ll need a bigger pot if the old one isn’t large enough to hold the root ball with about an inch to spare around the edges. Make sure the pot has drainage holes. Put a layer of fresh potting soil in the pot and place the plant on top of the soil, spreading the roots as much as possible. The soil line on the plant stem should be about an inch below the lip of the pot. Fill in around the sides with soil, taking care not to bury the plant any deeper than the original soil line.

Pro Tip: If you aren’t sure what type of container is best, here are tips for choosing the right pot.

Repotting Aloe vera, Houseplant, into Larger Clay Pot

3. Let Your Overwatered Houseplant Recover

The plant should soon begin to recover. Don’t worry if you lose a few lower leaves. In fact, it’s best to clip off any leaves that shrivel or turn brown. A good potting soil has plenty of nutrients to support the plant for several weeks, so don’t add plant food until the plant shows signs of new growth.

Gloved hands trimming damaged leaf on an overwatered houseplant.

4. Start a New Watering Routine

Houseplants vary in their moisture requirements. Pot size, soil consistency, sun exposure and growth rate add more variables. This makes it difficult to determine exactly how much water a plant needs. Instead of using a set schedule, let the soil tell you when to water the plant. Insert your finger to the second knuckle to check the soil for moisture. If it feels dry at that level, the plant probably needs water. Add water to the pot slowly until it begins to trickle from the drainage holes. Let the plant drain for at least 20 minutes and then empty the saucer under the pot.

Over time, you will develop an instinctive feel for the moisture requirements of your plants. Meanwhile, check the soil moisture frequently and take note of the conditions the plant seems to like best. Resist the temptation to overwater, and when you make mistakes, take corrective action right away.

For more tips on repotting your overwatered houseplant see our article on How to Repot a Houseplant.

Potted Succulents on Wooden Background

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